Judge in Reuters case rejects evidence of police setup

Reuters reporter Wa Lone is escorted from the Insein Township courthouse after testifying on July 16, 2018. Photo: Jacob Goldberg
Reuters reporter Wa Lone is escorted from the Insein Township courthouse after testifying on July 16, 2018. Photo: Jacob Goldberg

Reuters reporter Wa Lone testified for the first time yesterday in the case being brought against him and fellow reporter Kyaw Soe Oo for allegedly violating Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act. His testimony summarized his life as a journalist up to the night he was arrested in what the defense claims was a trap set up by Yangon police. However, when the defense tried to submit evidence of the trap, it was rejected by the presiding judge.

“Today was the beginning of Ko Wa Lone’s testimony for the prosecution,” defense attorney Than Zaw Aung told reporters after Monday’s hearing. “They asked about his past and he talked about his life before being a journalist – his education, his charity work, his life afterward, right up to the point where he left the restaurant.”

According to Wa Lone’s testimony, he was called to an urgent meeting at a Yangon restaurant by a police officer named Naing Lin on the evening of Dec. 12, 2017, ostensibly to receive information related to his investigation of a military massacre of 10 Rohingya men and boys in Inn Din village, northern Rakhine State, the previous September.

In January, Myanmar’s military admitted to the massacre and sentenced seven soldiers to 10 years each in prison. A month later, Reuters published its report on the massacre, largely built on the findings of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.

At the restaurant, Naing Lin gave Wa Lone a stack of papers that, according to his testimony, he did not ask for and that were irrelevant to their previous conversations.

The defense claims Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who had accompanied his colleague to the meeting, were arrested as they left the restaurant. The prosecution claims they were arrested after police found the documents in their possession at a routine traffic security check.

Former police officer Moe Yan Naing, who had also been a source in Wa Lone’s massacre investigation, along with Naing Lin and at least four other police officers, testified earlier this year that the reporters’ arrest had been orchestrated by a senior police official. Moe Yan Naing, who was present at the massacre, is now serving a yearlong prison sentence for giving information to Wa Lone.

The defense team tried to submit as evidence Telenor phone records that show that the meeting was initiated by Naing Lin. Naing Lin has previously testified that Wa Lone set up the meeting. However, judge Ye Lwin rejected the records as evidence.

“This is the evidence that Naing Lin called Ko Wa Lone and the contents of what they said, including how the meeting was set up,” said Than Zaw Aung after the hearing. “From earlier on in the case, we’ve already shown the truth of what happened. Now it is Ko Wa Lone’s turn to tell us his truth and his version of what happened.”

The judge also rejected printouts of Wa Lone’s previous articles, including an article about killings by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which the defense tried to present as evidence that the reporter does not harbor a bias against the Myanmar military.

When asked about the judge’s rejections, the lawyer said: “Before August 25, [Wa Lone] had written articles about what has happened in this country. We could only submit the printouts of the articles from the website. Under the Evidence Act, the judge ruled the articles as irrelevant to the case, so we were unable to submit the articles into the record.”

He went on: “For the Telenor phone records, there is a witness from Telenor who is scheduled to testify. When it’s their turn, we can resubmit them to the court as evidence.”

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were formally charged by the court on July 8 and face up to 14 years in prison if convicted.

The trial continues on Tuesday.

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